The last two posts discussed the idea of testing engineered flooring at Oregon State University. If we can get that program established, some of the tests we will apply will likely be ASTM tests. So, just what are they?

ASTM was once an abbreviation for the “American Society for Testing and Materials,” but that organization no longer exists. It is now known as ASTM International, and the abbreviation “ASTM” is often used colloquially as a generic term for any type of standard.

I’m sure that ASTM International does not want “ASTM” to be considered a generic trademark, so let’s talk about their work.

ASTM International manages about 12,000 ASTM standards in use around the world today. It’s an old organization, founded in 1898 by chemists and engineers from the Pennsylvania Railroad. They have 143 technical standards-writing committees and develop testing and standards for almost any industry out there. The development of a standard is designed to be a transparent and consensus-based program.

It is very important to note that ASTM International does not enforce compliance with its standards.

It is very important to note that ASTM International does not enforce compliance with its standards. Enforcement may come when the standard is specified by an outside organization or the government. For example, all toys sold in the United States must meet the safety requirements of ASTM F963. The U.S. government and others have to supervise compliance—ASTM just established the testing protocols they use for enforcement.

I went to look at some of the many ASTMs used by the flooring industry and typed in “floor” in the search page of the ASTM website. I had 8,736 results listed. Of course, not all are directly for the flooring industry, but it gives you an idea of how many possibilities there are. I ran “floor taber” and had 126 results, while the combination of “floor moisture” led to 2,116 results.

The NWFA uses ASTMs to defined production quality—for example, here’s a list of ones they use with engineered flooring. The challenge can be, however, that some of these standards are decades old, and while technology has changed (both in the production of flooring and the ability to quantify quality), many of the standards remain the same.

I was told that many of the testing methodologies in the building products community began as military specifications in the WWII era, which were then revised and repurposed over the years. Currently, the responsible ASTM committee must review and, if not change, at least re-approve each standard every five years. If anyone brings forward the need for revision, a suggestion for improvement or data to show bias or a gap in methodology, it is entered as new business and gains a spot on the agenda. Of course, this does require a volunteer—someone interested enough in the issue to champion it, lead a task group to provide new language for a revision and work to ensure consensus within the committee for its inclusion in the standard. However, it does mean that if you spot a problem within one of the NWFA-cited ASTM standards, change IS possible, if you are patient and can put in the work.

Among the many other groans in the audience, I can hear someone asking, “Wait, I thought those were ANSI standards! What’s the difference?” Well, stay tuned for next week, and I’ll try to tell you!

Elizabeth Baldwin has over 20 years of international wood sourcing experience. Very widely traveled, her résumé's "Special Skills" section includes "the ability to eat anything from raw horse to deep-fried scorpion." She serves as Metropolitan Hardwood Flooring's (metrofloors.com) ECO (Environmental Compliance Officer) and deals daily with the "green alphabet soup" of today's industry: FSC, CARB, LEED, and much more. She blogs for Hardwood Floors on all things green (and, as she says, " 'grey' and 'blue' and almost every color except 'black and white.' Nothing in this world is black and white, particularly not 'green issues.'")